the bunny warren v. Faith

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A Long Walk Home

Author: Mikelesq
Concept: After 'Older and Far Away,' Spike, Clem and Sophie face a demon. Spoilers up to "As You Were."
Rating: PG-13.
Feedback: Please.
Legal disclaimers: "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" characters and situations are owned by Joss Whedon and the producers of the show. The story is entirely fiction. Distribute if you like.

Prologue

It's hard to be afraid of radiation when the coffee shop is twelve blocks away.

Sophie reached into her pocket and pulled out its contents. Among the bubble-wrapped pills (a white pill for her asthma; a pink pill for her allergies, if they got bad; and a blue pill for her allergies, if they REALLY got bad), a laminated card with her name, address and telephone number (so the paramedics would know who to call if she was hurt or sick), and cough drops (in case she came across any cat fur, which could dry out her throat) was a small plastic sleeve containing a quarter and a dime. Exactly enough for a call from a pay telephone in an emergency. After being trapped in a house with a red monster for over a day, Sophie figured that the expenditure was justified.

Of course, to make a pay call, she'd need to find a payphone. The closest payphone Sophie knew of in Buffy's neighborhood was six blocks down Revello, then another six blocks up Hadley Street to the diner at Weston. Quite a long walk in the middle of the night. Sophie's mother didn't approve of young ladies walking alone at night. Of course, she didn't approve of cellular phones, either.

Sophie remembered coming home after her first day at the Doublemeat Palace. In her orientation folder were a number of flyers for employee discounts. Sophie had no illusions of her mother allowing her to use the coupon for AdventureWorld (roller coasters are dangerous for girls who have allergy-induced vertigo) or the certificate for the free horseback riding lesson (the jolting motions can...well, you get the idea). But Sophie had hoped that her mother would allow her to get the free cellular phone. The service was only fourteen dollars a month (which she could easily afford, now that her mother had allowed her to get a job), and Sophie had noticed that other girls who had cellular phones really seemed to enjoy them. When she went to the mall with her mother, she always saw girls walking around, talking and laughing on their phones.

Of course, she hadn't realized, until her mother told her, that those silly girls were doing themselves irreparable harm. Cell phones, her mother informed her, emit dangerous levels of radiation. "It's like sticking your head in a microwave oven," she explained. So Sophie still carried her dime and her quarter their sterile plastic sleeve. Money, as any sensible person knows, should be handled as little as possible to avoid exposure to germs.

Sophie shoved the pills, the card, the cough drops and the money back into her pocket and continued walking down the street. She didn't know what to tell her mother. She was supposed to be home by midnight. Technically, she still could be home by midnight. Not the midnight originally intended, but....

It had been a long time since Sophie had tried to think up a lie to tell her mother. She certainly couldn't say the truth. A red monster? A house that you can't leave? Her mother would never believe it. For that matter, Sophie's belief was starting to fade. Every step Sophie took brought her a step closer to rationalization. She couldn't leave because of...peer pressure. The monster was just a man...with a bad sunburn. Sophie wasn't sure whether she could explain everything because she wasn't afraid anymore, or if she wasn't afraid because she could explain everything. In any event, it was over.

Sophie was about to make the turn onto Hadley Street when she realized that the footsteps she heard were not only her own. She stopped. The footsteps continued. Sophie reached into her other pocket to grab her key chain. A small plastic whistle was attached to the ring. Her hand tightened around her keys as she turned to look at whoever was approaching.

It was difficult to see in the darkness, but what appeared to be a large man in somewhat ragged clothes approached Sophie. When he was about ten feet away, Sophie recognized the...unique ears. Clem stopped. A big smile crossed his face, and he waved.

"Hi," Clem said. "I thought it was you."

"Hi," Sophie said. "Um...I was just walking home."

"Me too," Clem replied. "Some party, huh?"

"Uh, yeah," Sophie agreed.

"You OK?"

"I guess," Sophie said. "It got pretty...."

"Yeah," Clem said. "But, all's well that ends well."

"I suppose," Sophie said.

"Well, I'll let you get home," Clem said. "You're family must be worried sick."

"Oh, yeah," Sophie said. "I should go."

"OK, bye," Clem said, continuing down Revello. He went about a half block, then turned and called to Sophie:

"Nice meeting you."

Clem continued walking down the street.

Sophie watched as Clem walked away. Seeing him again suspended her rationalization. He didn't have a skin condition. The man with the sword didn't have a sunburn. Something kept her in Buffy's house, and it wasn't peer pressure. Sophie realized that she was still very, very afraid.

But, for some reason, she wasn't afraid of Clem.

"Hey," she called out, briskly walking toward Clem. Clem stopped and turned to face Sophie.

"Um, I realize we just met," Sophie continued. "But...um...could you do me a favor?"

"I'd be happy to," Clem said. A big smile crossed his face. It wasn't a figure of speech; doing favors actually made Clem happy.

"Could you walk me up to the coffee shop on Weston Drive?" Sophie asked. "I need to call my mom."

"Oh, sure," Clem said.

"I would have called at Buffy's," she explained. "But when we could get out, I just left. And then I realized I needed to call, but I didn't want to go back in...are you sure it's not out of your way?"

"Oh, it's not that far," Clem said. "I'll just tag along. Make sure nothing happens."

Among scholars of the mystic arts, there is a theory that mystical convergences such as the Hellmouth, in addition to attracting demons and strengthening dark magicks, also generate irony. Subscribers to that theory would not have been surprised when, at the moment Clem finished speaking, a four-foot green lizard sprang from the hedges along the sidewalk and grasped Sophie in a bear hug.

Sophie screamed as she fell to the ground. The lizard demon hissed, its scaled limbs surrounding Sophie's body. Clem grabbed the demon with his massive arms, wresting the demon from Sophie and throwing it into the street. The lizard demon scurried into the night.

Clem watched as the demon escaped from sight. Behind him, he heard Sophie whimper:

"W-w-w-what was...?"

"Some kind of demon," Clem responded as he turned to face Sophie. "Don't worry, he won't...huh?"

As Clem turned, he saw that Sophie's body was surrounded by a red aura. Sophie stared at her hands, then down at her stomach, then her legs. Finally, she asked:

"What happened to me?"

Part I.


"You'll be fine," Clem said, leading Sophie through the graveyard. "Magic always has a fix."

"Can we stop for a minute?" Sophie asked. "Please. I just...I...."

"Oh sure," Clem said. "No one's going to be out here at night. 'Cept vampires, of course. But they won't bother us."

Clem led Sophie over to a crypt. He grabbed the handle, and with a firm but judicious application of his strength, he forced the door open. He walked in, then gestured for Sophie to follow. After a moment of hesitation, Sophie entered the crypt.

Between the moonlight through the windows and the crimson glow emanating from Sophie, the tomb was actually rather well lit. Clem took a seat on the tomb at the center of the crypt. Sophie stood, trying not to tremble.

"What did it do to me?" Sophie asked.

"I dunno," Clem said. "I've never seen one of those before. But you seem OK, and we'll get it fixed. Trust me, just about everything magical that can happen to a human can be undone. That's why people have managed to stay around."

"People," Sophie repeated. "Human. Like me. You say that like...I mean, you're not...you're a...."

"A demon," Clem said. "Yeah, it's OK to say. I don't mind."

"So, you're like that thing that...."

"Well, I wouldn't say that," Clem said, his eyes falling ever so slightly.

"Oh, I didn't mean...I mean...I really don't understand any of this."

"I can see how you'd be confused," Clem said. "It's OK."

"Look, maybe we could just talk about something else for a while," Sophie said.

"Oh, sure," Clem said. Clem thought of subjects that didn't involve demons and unexplained auras. "So, you work with Buffy?"

"Yeah," Sophie said. Her hands instinctively felt the front of her pants leg for the familiar and secure bulges of her pill packets.

"I like the Doublemeat Palace," Clem continued. "The food's good."

"I don't remember seeing you there," Sophie said, immediately realizing how foolish that statement was.

"Oh, sometimes one of the vampires in our poker games will bring food," Clem explained. "Y'know, if all that's there are kittens, eventually you'll start nibbling on your stake."

"Uh, yeah," Sophie said, swallowing hard.

"Oh, sorry," Clem said. "I forgot. People use cats for pets. Trust me, I get it. I had a pet scrivver as a kid. They look like pigs. That's why I never eat bacon."

"A scrivver?" Sophie asked. "What's that?"

"They're like pigs," Clem said. "Only longer. And they have webbed feet, like ducks. So they waddle." Clem shifted his shoulders back and forth in a waddling motion to illustrate. Sophie smiled. Clem smiled back.

"Anyway," Clem continued, "I get the kitten thing. But I like the Doublemeat Medley. It's tasty."

"I guess," Sophie said. "I mean, I don't know. I never had one."

Clem's eyes widened. "You work there, right? Don't they give you lunch for free?"

"I have the kitchen make me a salad out of the lettuce toppings," Sophie explained. "I can't have dairy products. The Medley has cheese. And the bread is enriched. I can only have whole wheat bread."

"Are you sick?"

"Well, no," Sophie said. It was her turn to drop her eyes. "I mean, I'm not sick-sick. I have allergies. They get bad if I have dairy. I can't drink milk. Or eat foods made with milk. Or pets. I mean, I can't have pets, not eat...well, you know."

"Gee, that's too bad," Clem said. "Pets are great. So, what happens if you have dairy?"

"I...I get...a reaction," Sophie explained, or at least tried to explain. "I haven't had dairy in so long, I really don't remember exactly what the reaction is like."

"So how do you know you're allergic?"

"I had tests when I was a kid," Sophie said. "They scratched my skin with a bunch of needles."

Clem winced and shuddered.

"I had a reaction to dairy," Sophie continued. "So I couldn't have milk. Or ice cream. My doctor thought sherbert would be OK. But then I had it one day, and I got a headache, so my mom said I couldn't have it anymore."

"Don't people normally get headaches when they eat something cold?"

"That's what my doctor said." Sophie replied. "But my mom said he was a quack, and he didn't know what he was talking about."

"Was that the same doctor who said you were allergic to milk?"

"Yeah."

"Well," Clem said. "If he's a quack, how can you know if...um...well, anyway, it's good that your mom cares enough to take such good care of you."

"Yeah," Sophie sighed. "Lucky me."

"Anyway," Clem said, sliding off the tomb, "we should get going. Spike's crypt is nearby. He'll know what to do."

"Spike from the party?" Sophie asked.

"Yeah," Clem said. "He's always helping Buffy and her friends remove a curse or stop a demon."

"Buffy stops demons?"

"Well, she is the Sla...oh, sorry. I think that's supposed to be a secret."

"Buffy never said anything about...."

"Oh, boy, Spike's gonna kill me," Clem mumbled. "If he finds out I told you...."

"Oh, I won't tell him," Sophie said. "It'll be our secret. Well, not our secret. It's Buffy's secret. But the fact that Buffy's secret isn't a secret, that'll be our secret."

"Cool," Clem said. "Thanks."

Clem squinted as he noticed that the glow around Sophie had started to grow brighter. Sophie's jaw trembled. She had noticed as well.

"Anyway," Clem said, "we'd better go."

Clem and Sophie exited the crypt and continued down the path through the cemetery.


Part II


Clem knocked on the door of Spike's crypt.

"Who's there?" Spike's voice asked from behind the door.

"It's me, Spike," Clem called.

"Alright, hang on," Spike said. After a moment, Spike cracked the door open and asked:

"What?"

"Hey, Spike," Clem said. "You remember Sophie, right?"

Sophie waved.

"Oh, yeah," Spike said. "From the party. Hey. Look, mate, this isn't a good time for...is she glowing?"

"Yeah," Clem said. "That's why we're here. We got jumped by a demon while we were walking home."

"We?" Spike repeated, a wicked grin spreading across his face. "Why, Clem, you devil!"

"I was walking her to a telephone," Clem said. "So she could call her mother."

"So this demon lit her up?" Spike asked.

"Yeah."

"Well, look, I'd love to help, but I'm kind of in the middle of this thing that...."

"Oh, come on Spike," Clem said. "Look, you owe me three kittens from last week's game. Help out and we'll call it even."

Spike rolled his eyes, then opened the door completely. Clem and Sophie entered, and saw a man in a leather jacket and dark glasses.

"What's this, Spike?" the man asked.

"Friends," Spike said.

"I don't like it," the man replied. "I'm here to talk...."

"And you've talked," Spike interrupted. "And I've listened. We're done. Just get the cash. I'll take care of the merchandise."

"Fine," the man said, walking past Sophie and Clem toward the door. "Just remember, Spike. I've got plenty of guys on the payroll, and they all have a pulse. Don't even think about pulling a fast one."

The man exited Spike's crypt, shutting the door behind him.

"Poof," Spike muttered as he threw his cigarette to the floor and turned to Clem. "So, what's up with the bird?"

Sophie silently hoped that there wouldn't be any talking bird creatures, and then realized that Spike must have been using British slang.

"Lizard demon," Clem explained. "About so high. Moved quick. It jumped her and ran off. Must've left something on her."

"Greenish?" Spike asked. "Little stubby tail? Flabby elbows?"

"That's it," Clem said.

"Ugh, Eftena demon," Spike said. "Nasty buggers. Normally they'd have nibbled her to the bone. They must be mating."

"Mating?" Sophie gasped.

"Yeah," Spike said. "They're sort of like scorpions. They don't actually shag. They just mark a person, then the lady Eftena gets the scent, eats the host, and three weeks later pops out a little baby Eftena."

"I'm...I'm...pregnant?" Sophie asked.

"In a manner of speaking," Spike said. "Actually, you're more like a surrogate mother."

"We've got to get rid of that mark," Clem said. "Whatever magic it is, it could hurt her if it stays on her long enough."

"Oh, don't worry," Spike said. "The lady Eftena will be around to eat her long before that."

"This isn't happening!" Sophie exclaimed. "I can't be pregnant! I've never even kissed a boy!"

After a moment of feeling Spike and Clem's gaze, Sophie said:

"Alright, I shared too much, didn't I?"

"I'd say quite the opposite, luv," Spike replied.

"Spike," Clem said. "Can we just focus on...?"

"It'll fix itself," Spike said. "The glow lasts about three hours. After that, the lights dim, the lady Eftena loses the scent, and she's a spinster for another season."

"So all we have to do is hide until the glow goes away?" Clem asked.

"No, we have to bugger off before the Eftena finds her," Spike said. "If we keep moving, we should be able to shake her long enough. We'll hit the tunnels. One go round the town and glow should fade on its own."

"Sounds like a plan," Clem said.

"Right," Spike said. "You. Sophie, right? Head downstairs. Clem and I'll be down after we've got some weapons together. That's it," Spike continued, as Sophie approached the ladder apprehensively. "That's it, down you go. Just be a minute."

After Sophie disappeared from sight, Spike walked over to a corner of the crypt and grabbed a small battle axe and handful of stakes.

"Here," Spike said, handing two stakes to Clem. "If we're going to be in the tunnels, we'd better be prepared for vamps, just in case. Look, mate, if the going gets tough, stick close. No offense, Clem, but you were always more of a lover than a fighter."

Clem pursed his lips and nodded in approval.

"Speaking of which," Spike said, pulling a cigarette from his coat pocket. "How about you, eh? Get her in girl clothes and she wouldn't be half bad. You know what they say about the first taste out of the bottle."

Clem let out a disgusted sigh and walked toward the ladder. Spike lit his cigarette and followed.


Part III


"This way," Spike said, gesturing for Sophie and Clem to follow him down a stretch of the sewer. "Stay tight. Bad time to be down here. Of course, not a good time to be anywhere in Sunnydale right now."

"Why?" Sophie asked.

"Kaagora's Solstice," Spike replied.

"Oh, yeah," Clem said. "I forgot."

"What's Kaagora's Solstice?" Sophie inquired.

"Mating season for demons," Spike explained. "Kaagora was a demon fertility goddess. Once every ninety odd years the stars line up and whatnot, and demons get all horned out, especially in places like Sunnydale. The Hellmouth's like a bleeding Barry White album. Demons come from all over to snog, spawn, lay eggs...."

Spike's voice trailed off, then he stopped and turned to face Sophie.

"Hey, you work with Buffy, don't you?" he asked.

"Um, yeah," Sophie admitted.

"In that takeaway shop," Spike half-asked Sophie, half-said aloud to himself. Spike continued walking. Sophie and Clem followed. Spike slowed his pace enough so that Sophie walked beside him.

"Listen, luv," Spike said. "That shop you work in, it's got one of those big freezer jobs, right?"

"Um, yeah," Sophie said. "It's about the size of a big closet. Bigger, actually."

"Let's suppose," Spike continued, "hypothetically, of course, that there was this bloke, right? And he had about a dozen or so...oh, let's say they were...bowling balls. And he wanted to keep them on ice overnight. That deep freeze of yours would do nicely, wouldn't it?"

"Why would he want to do that?" Sophie asked.

"Just indulge me," Spike said. "It's...er...a riddle."

"A riddle?"

"Oh, I like riddles," Clem said. "I think I've heard this one."

"No, you haven't," Spike said.

"No, no, wait," Clem said. "This is the one where he has to take the bowling balls across a river in a canoe, but he can only take three at a time. So he...."

"There's no canoe," Spike said, a hint of annoyance in his voice. "And no river. And I think the girl was talking. Ladies first."

"Um, I dunno," Sophie said. "You really can't get into the freezer at night. They have one of those motion detectors. They're afraid someone would get stuck inside. You know, like in that episode of 'The Brady Bunch?'"

"Oh, yeah," Clem said. "The one where Bobby and Oliver thought that Alice's boyfriend was a spy! I loved that one. What was his name...the guy...Alice's boyfriend...?"

"Sam!" Sophie exclaimed.

"Yeah," Clem said. "Sam the butcher."

"Yeah, right," Spike said. "Now, let's suppose...."

"Did you see the one with the trampoline?" Sophie asked.

"When Bobby was afraid of heights," Clem said. "But then his pet bird...."

"Excuse me!" Spike shouted. "I believe we were discussing my frozen bowling balls!"

"Oh," Sophie said. "Um...well, I don't really see how you could use the freezer at night. They're pretty careful."

"And this sensor doodad," Spike said. "Pretty much standard equipment?"

"Well, a girl at the Doublemeat said that they had one at her old job," Sophie said. "She used to work at the BeefyBarn. You know, the place with the big talking hamburger thing at the drive thru?"

"Eeesh," Clem said. "That guy creeps me out."

"Well," Spike muttered. "It was worth a shot."

"If you want," Sophie said, "I could check if...."

"Nah," Spike said. "Skip it. Just a thought. No big. It's just one night. Shouldn't be a problem anyway. They'll keep."

Sophie looked at Clem. Clem shrugged.

"Hold up," Spike said, stopping in his tracks. "Hear that? Something's down that tunnel. Wait here."

Spike snuck around the corner into the darkness.

"Um, your friend Spike is...interesting," Sophie whispered.

"Yeah," Clem said. "He can be...well, he's a vampire, you know? He can't help it. But sometimes he's nice."

"Really?"

"Oh, yeah," Clem said. "You know, he'll stake you a kitten if you're a little short, or hang and watch a movie."

"No, I mean, he's a vampire?"

"Gee, I'm just not very good at keeping secrets tonight, am I?"

"It's all just so much to absorb."

"By the way," Clem said. "Sorry about some of the things he said. Again, vampire."

"What do you mean?"

"You know," Clem explained. "When he implied that we were...you know."

"Oh, I know he didn't mean it," Sophie said.

"Oh, he meant it," Clem said. "He's not known for tact when it comes to that sort of thing."

"No, I mean, he was just kidding you," Sophie said. "He really didn't believe that you were...with me. I mean, c'mon. I'm not the kind of girl that guys go after."

"Who told you that?"

"Nobody told me," Sophie said. "I mean...I know I'm not...well, who wants a girl who can't even eat a cheeseburger?"

"That's just silly," Clem said. "I'll bet lots of guys have asked you out."

"No," Sophie said. "Well, there's this one...his name's Paul. He works at the Doublemeat. He asked me to go to a concert once."

"Did you go?"

"No," Sophie admitted. "Um...my mom thought that all the smoke would irritate my asthma. And I would have been out late. And...I know he really didn't like me. He was just trying to...you know."

"Sophie," Clem said. "I'm sure he liked you very much. Unless he's stupid, he'd have to. Now, is he stupid?"

"Well...no."

"There you go," Clem said.

"Um, hey," Spike said, turning the corner.

"Spike," Clem said. "Did you find what was causing the noise?"

"Well, you might say it found me," Spike replied, just before he was thrown forward onto the damp, stone floor of the sewer. Two men in dark clothes turned the corner behind Spike. Each held odd-shaped rifles in their hands.

"Hey," Clem said. "What's going on here? Who are...?"

One of the men raised his rifle. A blue streak of lightning burst forth from the barrel, knocking Clem to the ground. Sophie shrieked as she ran to Clem's side. The two men walked over to Sophie. One pointed his rifle at her chest, while the other pulled a metal box from his jacket pocket and looked down at the screen.

"Is she human?" the first man asked.

"Yeah," his companion replied, pulling a pair of handcuffs from another pocket with his free hand. "And that glow? It's the mark. The Eftena got her."

Sophie could only stare helplessly as the man handcuffed her behind her back.


Part IV.


"Uhhh," Clem muttered as he regained consciousness.

"Shhh," Spike whispered. Clem awoke to realize that his hands were shackled behind his back. Across from him, Spike and Sophie sat, also with their hands bound behind their backs.

Clem sat up. He saw Spike's eyes dart subtly down the tunnel. Clem glanced down the tunnel and saw the two men standing about thirty yards ahead. Although the two men were whispering, the echoing effect of the concrete walls, combined with Clem's keen hearing, allowed him to eavesdrop on the conversation.

"That was stupid, Richards," one of the men said. "You wasted a perfectly good taser blast on the wrinkly one. We've got to save the juice."

"He's the size of a humvee," Richards replied. "Besides, Clarke, it's not my fault we can't keep a decent charge on these things."

"I had to jury rig a car battery just to get any charge at all," Clarke said. "You get the army to pay the bills again, and I'll get us a full charge."

"This sucks," Richards said. "Back when we were in the...."

"Well, we're not in," Clarke interjected. "So it's this, or sit on your ass and watch Letterman. What's it gonna be, soldier?"

"Whatever," Richards sighed. "Look, I still don't see why we didn't kill the demons."

"They were with the girl," Clarke argued. "I wanna know why."

"Who cares? They're demons."

"I care," Clarke said. "Two demons guarding a human. There's gotta be a reason."

"Maybe they were delivering her to the Eftena," Richards theorized.

"Jeez, you're dense," Clarke said. "Didn't you pay attention during Species Training? Eftena are barely sentient. They don't even have a language. How would they make a deal with verbal Sub-Ts?"

"So what do we do? Put them in jars with holes in the lids?"

"First we get the Eftena," Clarke said. "Then we park the two of them in the basement until after the solstice. After we clean up, we get them to talk."

"What about the girl?"

"The female Sub-T will be along soon enough," Clarke said. "If the girl makes it, we let her go. Who's she gonna tell that's gonna believe her?"

"She saw our faces," Richards argued.

"We'll deal with that when it comes," Clarke said. "Right now, we have to set up a perimeter. Spread out."

"Spread out?" Richards repeated. "What are you talking about? There's only two of us. How can we...?"

"I said spread out, corporal!" Clarke shouted, storming off down a side tunnel. Richards shook his head, then went down another branch of the sewers.

"So that's their game," Spike muttered.

"Who are they?" Sophie asked.

"They look familiar," Clem observed.

"Remember them army wankers?" Spike asked. "Couple years back?"

"The Initiative?" Clem asked. "I thought they were gone?"

"They are," Spike said. "Guess some gits don't know when to pack it in."

"What's the Initiative?" Sophie asked.

"They were these government demon hunters," Clem explained. "They rounded up demons for experiments. They left town after it got out of hand. I guess these guys stayed behind to keep at it on their own."

"Yeah, well, I'd love to stick around and find out what happens to the few, the proud, and the bloody stupid," Spike said, wriggling behind his back. "But I think I'm leaning on a wire something or other, and...."

Sophie and Clem heard the sound of metal scraping against metal, and then a slight click. Spike pulled his now free hands around and massaged his sore wrists. He then walked over to Clem and began picking the locks on Clem's shackles.

"Where'd you learn to do that?" Clem asked.

"A little something I picked up while I was with Dru," Spike said, trying to get a good angle on the keyhole of Clem's shackles. "She liked to play. Of course, she also liked to wander off after and sing with crickets, so...there!"

Clem tossed aside the shackles as Spike began to work on Sophie's handcuffs.

"We've got to get outta here," Clem said. "Those army guys are bad news."

"So they're not like Buffy?" Sophie asked. "They don't only go after bad demons?"

"Well, that's how they started out," Clem replied. "But near the end they got out of hand."

"And these morons seem to be right out of their bleeding heads," Spike continued, as he freed Sophie from the handcuffs and tossed them to the ground. He then looked down at them, shrugged, grabbed the handcuffs, and put them in his jacket pocket. "Never hurts to have a spare set," Spike muttered to himself.

"We'd better get out of here," Clem said.

"Right," Spike said, lifting Sophie to her feet.

"Do you think they'll get the Eftena?" Sophie asked.

"Probably," Clem said. "From what they were saying, they're going to be hunting during the whole Solstice. They probably know that the demon activity is going to be up during the month, so any demon that's in town for the spawning period is a target."

"Wait a minute," Spike said. "That could be trouble."

"We'll just lay low," Clem said. "They won't bother us. They'll just go after the demons who are reproducing."

"No," Spike said. "I mean...if these guys are out shooting anything that...er...um...we should take these guys out."

"What?" Sophie asked.

"Stay out of this, luv," Spike said. "Look, Clem, these Initiative guys, they were never any good for any of us."

"Fine," Clem said. "Let's tell Buffy. She took care of them last time."

"She's talking to the Little Bit," Spike said. "She won't just sod off to go after these two."

"So she waits a couple of days," Clem said. "So what? They've been hunting demons for a couple of years. What's another day or two?"

"We're in the middle of the Solstice," Spike said. "They might get...I mean, they might tag a demon that...anyway, you heard them, they're on the warpath in a big way."

"Maybe," Clem said. "But we could still...."

"Look, Clem," Spike said. "They were ready to use your lady friend here as bait, right? Who else would they be willing to hurt if they got the chance?"

"Well...."

"The one guy was ready to kill her," Spike said. "If they're ready to do that, what else would they do?"

"Um...I suppose...."

"Right," Spike said. "Now, I can't raise a hand to these guys without setting of the stupid chip in my head, so here's the plan...."


Part V.


"Alright," Spike said. "You two sit here with your hands behind your backs. When they're coming, we move."

"Gotcha," Clem said, sitting on the ground opposite Sophie.

"Clem," Sophie said.

"Yeah?"

"I don't know if I can do this."

"It'll be OK," Clem said. "Just stick close."

"Clem, I'm scared," Sophie said, a hint of tears in her voice.

"Look, luv," Spike said. "I put my neck on the line for you, so now it's payback time. I watched your back, now it's your turn to do this for me."

"Do what for you?" Sophie asked. "You're determined to get these soldiers out of the way. Why? You wanted to run from the Eftena, but now you want to fight. What are you really after? There's something you're not telling us."

"Sophie," Clem said. "Spike's right. These are bad men. I promise nothing will happen to you. I promise."

Footsteps sounded through the tunnels before Sophie could respond. Clem put his hands behind his back. Clem and Spike both looked at Sophie. She bit her bottom lip, then thrust her arms behind her back, and nodded.

"It's got to be somewhere," Clarke said, walking down the corridor.

"Maybe it lost the scent down here," Richards said. "Maybe...hey!"

Clarke and Richards looked down the tunnel and saw Spike grasping Sophie by the shoulders, his face buried in the nape of her neck.

"He's lose!" Clarke shouted, raising his rifle.

"Stop, you idiot!" Richards said. "You'll get both of them. The girl's no use as bait if she's dead."

Richards and Clarke ran down the tunnel. When they got to Spike, Clarke grabbed him by the shoulders and threw him off of Sophie.

As Richards raised his rifle to shoot Spike, Clem sprang, knocking both of the soldiers to the ground. Unfortunately, Clarke's reactions were faster than Clem had thought, and Clarke fired his rifle. The blue arc caught Clem in the shoulder, and sent him reeling.

Clarke started after Clem, but Sophie stretched out her leg and tripped him. As he fell, Clark reached out to brace his fall and dropped his taser. Meanwhile, Richards started swinging at Spike with the stock of his rifle.

"Damn," Spike muttered. He dodged the blows from Richards, but the chip prevented him from taking any offensive action.

The chaos of the battle came to a sudden halt as everyone heard a loud hiss echo through the tunnel. On the ground, Clarke grabbed a flashlight from one of his cargo pockets and shone it down the tunnel. A four-foot lizard was making a hasty charge toward them.

"It's the Eftena!" Clarke shouted. He rose to his knees and grabbed for his weapon, but the lizard, instinctively sensing Clarke's aggression, jumped on him and sank its teeth into his neck. The Eftena dropped Clarke's lifeless body to the ground, and turned its attention to Sophie. She screamed as the reptile's eyes gazed down on her.

Clem saw the Eftena approach Sophie, pushed himself up on his good arm, and launched himself at the lizard creature wrestling it to the ground. Richards raised his rifle, ready to take out the two demons with one shot.

"Clem!" Spike shouted. "Switch!"

Clem looked up, then released the Eftena and lumbered toward Richards. Spike then ran to the Eftena, and kicked it across the jaw as it attempted to get to its feet. He grasped the Eftena's head, and snapped its neck with one twist.

As Spike turned to check out the rest of the action, Clem was knocked backward by a blow to the chest from the butt of Richard's rifle, propelling Clem into Spike. The pair hit the concrete, and Richards stood above them, pointing his rifle at both of them.

"Now," Richards said, "I'll finish the job. We shoulda killed the two of you when...ugh!"

Richards dropped to the ground, twitching and writhing in pain. Clem and Spike looked up, and saw Sophie standing behind Richards. Steam was rising from the barrel of Clarke's rifle. Sophie was pointing it at Richards' head.

Richards turned over, groaning in pain. He froze as he saw Sophie standing above him.

"Your friend's dead," Sophie hissed. "And you're not looking too good either. I'd suggest you go home. And if I ever hear that you're messing around with demons again, I'll finish you off myself. Now beat it."

Richards scrambled to his feet and ran down the tunnel into the darkness.

Sophie dropped the rifle to the ground and began trembling. Clem got up and walked to her side.

"Oh my god," Sophie muttered. "I shot...and the lizard was...and he...and I...and I said...and...."

"You did fine," Clem said, placing his hand on her shoulder.

"Do you think he believed me?" Sophie asked.

"Hell, I was ready to bugger off myself," Spike said, rising to his feet.

"You did real good," Clem said. "I don't think we'll see any more of him."

"Yeah," Spike said, grabbing a cigarette from his coat. "No soldier boys around for the rest of the Solstice. Heh. Worked out just fine."

"I don't believe I did that," Sophie said.

"Well, you did," Clem said. "And I don't think the Slayer could have done any...hey, Sophie! You're not glowing!"

Sophie looked at her hands and arms, and saw that, in fact, the glow had gone away.

"You're cured," Clem observed.

"Yeah," Sophie said. "I think I am."


Epilogue


"Are you sure you want to keep that thing?"

"Yeah," Sophie said, glancing down at the rifle she cradled in her arms as she walked. "I dunno, Clem. I guess it's kind of a souvenir. Or maybe just to make sure I remember things right. I don't want to start forgetting the way I did after Buffy's party. It's important that I know that all this really happened."

"Suit yourself," Clem said. "Just be careful. Those things can be dangerous."

"I can handle it," Sophie said.

"So is this it?" Clem asked. "You said it was number seven-oh-nine."

"Oh, yeah," Sophie said, a hint of disappointment in her voice. "This is my house."

"Well, I said I'd get you home," Clem said. "Sorry it took so long."

"Are you kidding?" Sophie said. "You were great. And...well...it was scary, but...it was kinda...well, fun."

"Well, I should...."

"Hey, Clem," Sophie said. "Would you like to come in? I mean, my folks have cable. We could watch some TV. Maybe throw a movie in the VCR. I could pop some popcorn, and...."

Clem swallowed hard. His head dropped. Sophie noticed that his large ears flapped as he sighed. Over the course of the night, Sophie had forgotten that Clem was...what he was. But Clem hadn't. Demons who like Nick-at-Nite never forget that they are different.

"You should get some sleep," Clem finally said. "It's been a long night. I know you don't stay out late very often. But, you know, you should. You should start going to parties more. But maybe not with Buffy. You should start making friends with normal people. I mean...people your own age. Maybe that guy Paul. He sounds really nice. I bet he'll ask you out again. Yep, I'll bet he will. And if he doesn't, maybe you should ask him. Guys like that. They really do."

"I guess," Sophie said, unsure of what else she could say.

"I'd better get home," Clem said. "You have a good night."

Clem turned and began walking down the street.

"Clem!" Sophie shouted.

Clem turned.

"Thank you," she said. "Really. Thanks. For everything. Maybe, someday...."

"Goodbye, Sophie," Clem said. He waived, and then continued walking, until eventually he was out of sight.

Sophie stood in front of her house. Clem was right. She had to find a place in her own world, and Clem was a very sweet, very kind creature that was not part of that world.

Sophie walked up to the front door of her house, got out her keys, unlocked the door, and walked in. Her mother, wearing a pink terrycloth robe, was sitting in the living room to the left of the foyer.

"Sophie!" her mother exclaimed, rising to her feet. "Where have you been? Your father and I have been worried sick!"

"I'm fine," Sophie muttered.

"Don't hand me that, young lady!" her mother shouted. "Do you know how long I've been waiting for you? I've already called the police! What have you been up to? What have...and what is that thing you're carrying?"

"It's a taser rifle," Sophie calmly explained. "It was created by the military to subdue monsters."

"What?!? Sophie, are you on something? It's that girl from work, isn't it? She's got you taking drugs! You're obviously imagining some...."

Sophie interrupted her mother by leveling the rifle, aiming it to her left, and firing at a lamp across the room. With a sharp sizzle, and then a loud bang, the porcelain shattered as the blue electricity struck it. Sophie's mother gasped, then turned wordlessly to face her daughter.

"I said I'm fine," Sophie said. "There's nothing wrong with me. Nothing. But I am tired. I'm going to bed. Goodnight, mother."

Her mother watched as Sophie quietly turned and began climbing the stairs to her room. On her way down the hall, Sophie decided that she would get the twenty-five dollar plan with her new cell phone. She might not use all four hundred of the anytime minutes, but Sophie was feeling extravagant.


THE END


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